In This Issue

Natural Resource Damage Assessments – Final rule

In the event of a discharge or substantial threat of a discharge of oil (incident), the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2701 et seq., provides that Federal, State, Indian tribal, and/or foreign natural resource trustees (trustees) assess natural resource damages and develop and implement a plan for the restoration, rehabilitation, replacement, or acquisition of the equivalent of the injured natural resources and their services. Congress directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to promulgate regulations for the assessment of natural resource damages resulting from an incident (OPA section 1006(e)(1)). NOAA promulgated final regulations on January 5, 1996 (see 61 FR 440), codified at 15 CFR part 990.

Under these OPA regulations, trustees conduct natural resource damage assessments in the open, with responsible parties and the public involved in the planning process to achieve restoration more quickly, decrease transaction costs, and avoid litigation. These restoration plans form the basis of claims for natural resource damages. Under the natural resource damage assessment regulation, trustees then present a demand comprised of the final restoration plan to responsible parties for funding or implementation, plus assessment costs. These final regulations were challenged pursuant to section 1017(a) of OPA. On November 18, 1997, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling on the final regulations (General Electric Co., et al., v. Commerce, 128 F.3d 767 (D.C. Cir 1997)). The Court remanded to NOAA for further agency decisionmaking: (1) authorization for the removal of residual oil, and (2) the scope of authorization for recovery of legal costs. NOAA also proposed clarifying and technical amendments in other parts of the regulations. On July 31, 2001, NOAA published proposed amendments to the final regulations to address the remanded issues and to propose some clarifying and technical amendments in other parts of the regulation. This final rule [67 FR 61483, Docket No. 990608154-2213-02, RIN 0648-AM80], addresses the remanded issues and comments received.

This final rule is effective October 31, 2002.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Eli Reinharz, 301-713-3038, ext. 193 (FAX: 301-713-4387; e-mail: or Linda Burlington, 301-713-1332 (FAX: 301-713-1229; e-mail: